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CDC chief says Michigan should 'shut things down,' vaccinating alone won't stop Covid surge

CNBC logo CNBC 4/12/2021 Kevin Breuninger
  • A top Biden administration health official said Michigan should "shut things down" as it grapples with an overwhelming surge in coronavirus cases.
  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said a boost in Covid vaccinations alone isn't the answer — even as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urges the federal government to send the state more vaccines.
  • Whitmer has been reluctant to order new restrictions in response to the most recent surge in cases.
a person in a blue shirt: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer receives a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at Ford Field during an event to promote and encourage Michigan residents to get the vaccine on April 6, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. © Provided by CNBC Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer receives a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at Ford Field during an event to promote and encourage Michigan residents to get the vaccine on April 6, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

A top Biden administration health official said Monday that Michigan should "shut things down" as it grapples with an overwhelming surge in coronavirus cases.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said a boost in Covid-19 vaccinations alone isn't the answer — even as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer calls on the federal government to send more vaccines her way.

"I think if we try to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact," Walensky said during a White House briefing on the pandemic. It takes several weeks for immunizations to kick in and reduce the caseload, she noted.

The state's best bet, Walensky said, "is to really close things down."

Walensky called on Michigan "to go back to where we were last spring, last summer and to shut things down, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another" and to ramp up testing and contact tracing efforts. Cases in Michigan have dramatically risen in recent weeks, averaging 7,359 new cases per day over the last week and approaching its pandemic highs set around Thanksgiving, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths are also on the rise.

"Really what we need to do in those situations is shut things down," Walensky said.

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Whitmer, a Democrat in a politically purple state where shutdowns have been especially controversial, has been reluctant to order new restrictions in response to the most recent surge in cases.

Last week, she asked residents in her state to voluntarily limit their activities and urged schools to temporarily halt in-person learning. But she stressed that "to be very clear, these are not orders, mandates or requirements."

No state is recording more daily infections on a per capita basis than Michigan, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. 

Much of the current surge stems from a highly infectious variant of Covid, B.1.1.7, which is now the most common strain of the virus in the U.S.

Whitmer on Friday called on President Joe Biden's administration to flood her state with vaccines, going so far as to urge the government to "create a vaccination surge program to help states like Michigan." The administration is reportedly willing to rush some resources to the state, but not vaccines.

Walensky, without addressing Whitmer directly, pushed back on the calls for shipping extra vaccines out to states with severe outbreaks.

"There are different tools that we can use for different periods" of an outbreak, Walensky said at Monday's briefing.

"We know that if vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an effect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine, for somewhere between two to six weeks," she said. "So when you have an acute situation, extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine. In fact, we know that the vaccine will have a delayed response."

"Similarly, we need that vaccine in other places," Walensky said. "If we vaccinate today, we will have impact in six weeks, and we don't know where the next place is going to be that is going to surge."

CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

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